Scott Douglas: A spring in the step of the media?

Scott Douglas

IT strikes me that there’s something of a spring back in the step of news gatherers.

Could it be that the pall of gloom over the future of journalism is finally lifting?

Sure, no-one has worked out how to make the kinds of money coined in by newspapers during the glory years. Yet the period of gloomy hack hand-wringing over the prospect of a journalistic apocalypse seems to have passed.

Now, news gatherers, writers, packagers and producers are just getting on with it. Not quite a cheery blitz spirit. More a grim acceptance that change isn’t just coming – it’s already here, it’s happening now and it’s not quite as bad as feared.

Not too long ago there was talk about the end of journalism as we know it: the imminent demise of most of our printed titles, a bleak information landscape of glossy celebrity fluff or hyper-local jumble sale updates, with only digital tumbleweeds where there used to be ‘real news’ in between.

So what’s happened since then? Well I’ve got a few thoughts:

Closures. Journalists and media folk were getting awfy angsty about the possible collapse of major newspapers. Bets were being laid about when the Sunday Herald would disappear and how long after that The Scotsman and/or The Herald would last. Then Murdoch shut down the News of the World. Not a limping, local broadsheet with national pretences, but an actual behemoth, killed stone dead.

Dunno about you, but once the shock wore off, I stopped fretting about if and when papers might or might not close. Let’s make the most of them while they’re here and hope they make it through the digital convulsions the industry is suffering. Worrying about it achieves nothing.

Job losses. The Scottish news scene felt at rock bottom when the aggressive job cutting was in full swing.

Those left standing are now likely to be working on seven-day operations and across digital platforms. Doubtless, the workload has increased and there’ll be catcalls about failing standards. Yet, journalism endures and it still looks pretty much the same.

For those who lost their jobs, most have dusted themselves down, discovered their skills are transferrable and moved on. The children still get fed and shod.

In either case the new work may not be ideal, but there’s something redeeming about getting through the toughest of times more or less intact.

The Leveson Inquiry into Press standards. The inquiry was set up following claims that the mobile phone of the murdered teenager, Milly Dowler, had been hacked into. But, with a very bright light being shone into the wilfully dark corners of newspaper practice, how many more such serious transgressions have been since dragged out into the glare, to shame the profession?

None. Media transgressions shouldn’t be excused, but a degree of perspective is being provided by the behaviour in various others of our institutions, such as banking. Regardless of what Lord Justice Leveson might recommend, there’s already a feeling of a fresh start and a chance for journalism to prove what it can do and do cleanly.

That’s got to be a positive, even for the vast majority of Scottish journalists who were never involved in hacking or similar black arts in the first place.

Social Media. This is my favourite. I am stupidly and blindly smitten by all things social media – even though it has often been cited as the death-knell for newspapers and paid-for content.

The positives? How about the fact that blogs include money-spinning, genuine journalistic endeavours like Mashable, The Huffington Post and Order-Order? The new model of paying media is starting to coalesce.

Then there’s the fact that Twitter and Facebook are helping spread news stories and journalism to a wider audience than ever before. Naysayers will say that hard copy sales and advertising (ie the money) are on a downward spiral, that giving news to people for free – even more people than ever before – makes no sense.

Fair enough, I don’t have the answers to that. But I can’t help feel that getting journalism in front of more people more often is going to be a key ingredient in protecting news gathering for the future.

There are two things I am absolutely certain of.

Firstly, every social media expert I trust and listen to has acknowledged that social media does not supplant journalism – in fact, traditional media, like newspapers, are more important than ever.

Secondly, every PR client on my books is clear that their first and foremost concern is to see the name of their business or organisation in a credible, traditional form of media – usually a newspaper.

Who knows what the future holds for newspapers in particular and the news media in general?

The only thing I’m sure of is that journalistic storytelling is as sought after as it’s ever been. That alone cheers me right up.

Scott Douglas is a director of Holyrood PR. He is also the founder of Deadline News Agency and a former reporter with the Daily Record, The Journal and the Edinburgh Evening News.

 

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